– Aggressive styling
– Pure uninterrupted power
– Great handling
– Useless rear seating
– Hard cabin plastics
– Noisy even with the top up
If you thought the Camaro franchise was strung out as far as possible, think again. Our latest run with the stunning Chevy muscle car is with all-new convertible version, brewing for years and now finally on the streets. The only question is whether, with the roof chopped off, it is still as well-sorted as the coupe.
Our new-for-2012 Chevy Camaro SS convertible tester has all the design cues of the SS coupe, namely the fake bonnet scoop, the larger tail pipes and the bigger alloys. The obvious differences are the brake light on the boot lid and, of course, the cloth top that gives the car only a slightly-lopsided roof profile compared to the coupe. On close inspection of the exterior, we’d say build quality is about the same, which is to say, passable.
The cabin also remains unchanged, a sea of black hard plastics contrasting with shiny red hard plastics. The redeeming features are the unique leather-upholstered seats, padded leather armrests and the retro-modern instrument cluster. The sharp-rimmed steering wheel is also back, as are the illegible gauges ahead of the shifter. The thick cloth top has a glass rear window.
Space up front is perfect, at least for average-sized adults like us, even if the slit windows give a claustrophobic feel, but we sort of got used to it. The front seats have moderate side-bolstering, and power-adjustable for the driver, while the partially-powered passenger seat manually flips forward to provide access to the cramped rear seat with useless rear legroom. As for storage spaces, there are small door pockets, a small cubby under the centre armrest and two exposed cup-holders, with a long-but-shallow cargo boot out back that isn’t too compromised when the cloth top is folded down.
Tech features are simple, with basic keyless entry, some mood lighting, power windows and mirrors, above-average CD/MP3 stereo with USB port, front and side airbags, pretty good basic a/c, HID headlights with “halo” rings and not much else. However, new for 2011 are a working Bluetooth phone as well as a nifty heads-up display on the windshield. As for the roof, it requires turning a latch with a clumsy amount of muscle, and then the power top folds down electrically.
Since we were driving the 6-speed automatic version, our Camaro SS had the 6.2-litre “L99” V8, good for 400 hp at 5900 rpm and 560 Nm of torque at 4300 rpm, both slightly less than the manual version’s “LS1” V8, losing launch control but gaining a cylinder-deactivation system to save fuel. Our test results were predictable, as we fired off a 0-100 kph run of 6.5 seconds with a 3000 rpm launch in warm May weather, only 0.2 seconds off the pace of our manual Camaro SS test. The heavier 1891-kilo convertible also burned more fuel, averaging 18.1 litres/100 km, so it is safe to say that cylinder-shutoff gimmicks don’t help a whole lot when you’re not trying to take it easy.
The Camaro SS still drives like a proper sports car, with weighted power steering that offers decent feedback and direct turn-ins, and Chevrolet has actually eliminated the previously-sloppy on-centre feel. Corners feel pretty much flat, with unnoticeable body roll and oodles of available grip from the 245/45 front and 275/40 rear rubbers, as long as the throttle is precisely controlled. Keeping the traction control on is recommended for newbies, as it can pull off burnouts at a heartbeat. The automatic gearbox is fine in choosing the right gears on its own, although the manual mode using paddles isn’t very satisfying due to their mild response delays. Huge ABS-assisted Brembo brakes with vented discs, visible through the 20-inch alloys, are eye-poppingly effective and can haul down the car to a stop within a breath from 120 kph. With the improved steering, the 2012 Camaro SS is even better than before.
What the convertible loses out on, compared to the coupe, is the rather good ride comfort. Chevrolet says various braces were added throughout the car to strengthen the body, but the effects of losing the roof were still evident. There were the occasional shaky rattles when driving over bumps, while the cloth roof barely blocks any outside noise, so we always felt like there is a window open, even with the top up. And with the small rear window, reverse-parking was a massive hassle even with sensors, as all we saw in the mirrors were the fat rear fenders of the car. With the top down, the windshield was so low that air partially blew into our eyes while receding our hairlines at highway speeds. We could also see the folded-down roof mildly flapping in the mirror, which made us worry a bit. The convertible also seemed to ride a bit firmer than the coupe, likely a side-effect of the all the mods to compensate for the roof-chop. However, the ride is still compliant enough for the most part.
Basically, the Chevrolet Camaro SS is an excellent sports car whether you get one with a metal roof or cloth top. But you’d have to be very compromising to accept the compromises that come with the convertible. A lot of convertibles suffer the same issues. At best, top-down driving with the convertible is suited for low-speed cruises along the beach while attempting to look cool. Going full-blast at 150 kph roof-less will age your dry face very fast.
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